The curious case of Newsnight and Steve Messham

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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
So, Lord McAlpine did not abuse young male residents at the Bryn Estyn children’s home in North Wales; that much is now clear.
 
We also know that Steve Messham was shown a picture of one of his abusers in 1996 and told (wrongly) it was the Tory peer – who the person in the photograph really was, we don’t know.

That the establishment has been discomfited by the re-emergence of Mr Messham is evident in the vitriol that has been aimed at him since the McAlpine misidentification emerged.

Former Tory Minister David Mellor, himself no stranger to sexual scandals, labelled Mr Messham a ‘weirdo’; an unfortunate remark that has been roundly condemned.  Others have been quick to describe Mr Messham as ‘unreliable’ – a term usually reserved for the fantasist or those whose testimony is suspect.

However, the fact remains that Steve Messham and others were routinely abused by staff and visitors to Bryn Estyn.  Many were jailed for their crimes, but there is a wide acceptance that some people escaped justice.

The furore over the Newsnight programme has obscured the real story which looked as though it was about to prise open several uncomfortable closet doors. 

Looking at the Newsnight broadcast one is left staggered at the apparent mistakes that were made, not least the failure to show Mr Messham a photograph of Lord McAlpine that he might be afforded the opportunity to confirm an identification he made 16 years previously.

But it isn’t just the photo failure that stands out here.  Known to almost every journalist who cares to take a look at the case was Mr Messham’s testimony at the original Waterhouse Tribunal held in 1997:

  • Gerard Elias QC: “Does the name McAlpine mean anything to you.”
  • Steven Messham: “Yes, sir.”
  • Elias: “In what context?”
  • Messham: “I was also abused by him sexually.”
  • Sir Ronald Waterhouse: “Is the person you referred to alive or dead?”
  • Messham: “I believe he is dead.”

Mr Messham very clearly indicates that his abuser is named McAlpine and is dead.  Now, Lord McAlpine is very clearly not dead, thus one might have assumed that this inconsistency would have been picked up by Newsnight.

McAlpine

But there’s more to the McAlpine story as has already been reported in several newspapers.

The Guardian reported that – ‘A local councillor who was also a victim of abuse at Bryn Estyn told The Guardian that he believed a different member of the McAlpine family may have been mistaken for Lord McAlpine.

Several sources have suggested that Mr Messham may have been referring to Jimmie McAlpine, who chaired the building firm Alfred McAlpine Ltd, and who lived in Chester, near Wrexham.’

James McAlpine, who died in 1991, was a relative of Lord McAlpine.  According to his obituary one of his main interests,”was vintage cars, and he amassed what was at one time the biggest private collection in Britain.”

According to Mr Messham’s testimony in 1997, the person he identified as having the name McAlpine, “had several cars and a chauffeur.” and would wait for him at the bottom of Bryn Estyn Lane.

Keith Gregory, a Wrexham councillor said a man who children at the home believed to be a member of the McAlpine family would arrive at Bryn Estyn in an expensive car. “He was a right flashy thing,”

Gregory said boys from Bryn Estyn would be taken in a van to do gardening and cleaning at two properties owned by the McAlpine family.  One, Gerwyn Hall, was a grand Georgian house hidden by woodland from the public road, and was occupied by Jimmie McAlpine.

Most of this information was available to the BBC and the McAlpine link was covered extensively by the Waterhouse Tribunal. 

That tribunal concluded that another witness, who apparently corroborated Mr Messham’s claims of a McAlpine family link – was referring to another person, something challenged by Mr Messham’s solicitor who insisted that Waterhouse hadn’t investigated the claims in 1997 because the terms of reference of the tribunal prevented it.

Since the story blew up, there have been claims of threats and intimidation – something that suggests significant concern in some quarters.

Last week Labout MP Tom Watson who originally suggested a paedophile link to Number 10 Downing Street revealed he had received threats to his wellbeing if he continued to pursue the matter.

On Friday, online Magazine The Firm revealed that one of their staff had received a “brusque, abusive” and “threatening” email from an unnamed producer at the BBC.

According to the magazine’s blogger, the communication was received at 9:51pm on Wednesday, and “was an attempt to steer me off any further reporting of the online naming of the figure or figures at the heart of the abuse scandal.”

If true, then this would be a shocking new twist to this appalling story, one that has already resulted in the BBC DG losing his job, with more to follow.

Number 10 Downing Street

Claims of paedophile links to Number 10 Downing Street have led to speculation that a former senior aide to Margaret Thatcher was involved in child sex abuse.  Prime Ministerial aide Sir Peter Morrison, who was also an MP, was Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary when she was Prime Minister.

An eye witness who worked at the North Wales Care Home has claimed he saw Sir Peter Morrison and others regularly visit the home to pick up boys, who were then returned later in a distressed state with unexplained injuries.

Former Tory Minister Edwina Currie also claimed Morrison, who died in 1995 at the age of 52, regularly had sex with teenage boys under the age of consent.  Ms Currie claimed that his behaviour was covered up by senior Tories.

Former leader of the Welsh Conservatives Rod Richards said he had seen evidence linking Sir Peter to the North Wales children’s homes scandal.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Mr Richards said: “What I do know is that Morrison was a paedophile.  And the reason I know that is because of the North Wales child abuse scandal.”

When the Newsnight clouds clear, there is surely a trail of evidence that investigators ought to be looking into.